Another Speech for the Ages. Now What?

Ask just about any impartial person who heard it, and you will be told that President Obama gave one of his best speeches last night when he addressed both houses of Congress on the need for health care reform. The ringing rhetoric was there, with the obligatory quotable quotes for the history books. The facts were laid out clearly and incontrovertibly. The moral high ground was claimed and the flag of progress firmly planted.

So when do we get health insurance for those 45 to 50 million Americans still without coverage? When do we end the abuses of health industry profiteers? When do people with “pre-existing conditions” get guaranteed protection? When do we start holding the profiteers accountable? Well, not so fast. That might be a while in coming.

For one thing, President Obama talked about reform taking effect four years down the road. Four years! I wonder whether a lot of the men, women and children who are currently at risk because of the dysfunctional health care industry will still be alive? And in the meantime, what? The President’s answer was reassuring – but short on details.  Something about Presidential wannabe John McCain’s “plan” to provide a “safety net” for the poor and sick. McCain had a plan like that? If he did, I missed it during the campaign. But no matter. It sounded great – bipartisan and humanitarian at the same time.

paperAnd here’s another clue to the likely effects of the speech… The Republicans weren’t listening. For evidence of that, you had only to hear Charles Boustany – Dr. Charles Boustany – recite the same old list of lukewarm fallacies the party has been pushing for years in his official rebuttal to the President’s speech. So Boustany is some kind of heart surgeon. (Yes, they have heart surgeons in Louisiana and I’m not talking about Voodoo priests.) But he apparently doesn’t know squat about the health care issue.

Then there was the blatant rudeness: Republican Representative Eric Cantor texting incessantly on his blackberry… Republican members rolling their eyes, guffawing, waving pieces of paper (photo at left) and shouting interruptions… That yokel from South Carolina, Rep. Joe Wilson (photo below), yelling (falsely), “You lie!” when the President explained that health care reform would not include insurance coverage for illegal aliens…

So much for any hope of bipartisanship. The Republicans are sticking to their strategy of  playing to their base and opposing everything the President proposes. One Republican senator might possibly support some kind of health care reform – Olympia Snowe of Maine. But forget about anyone else. Forget “Ted Kennedy’s best friend” Orrin Hatch. Forget his other “best friends” John McCain, and Chuck Grassley. They might have loved Teddy but they love their party more.

wilsonSo what happens now? The bottom line is that something has to be done. The existing situation is untenable. America spends nearly twice as much on health care as any other country in the world – $7,290 per person, compared with $2,992 in the UK, $2,581 in Japan, $3,601in France and $3,895 in Canada. Yet the U.S. is ranked in the mid-thirties worldwide when it comes to results.

Millions are without coverage in the U.S. and thousands more lose their coverage every day. Medical expenses ae blamed for 50 percent of all bankruptcies nationally. And 80 percent of medical bankruptcy comes from people who have insurance.

GDPBut that’s not the main reason something has to be done. The fact is that economically the status quo cannot be sustained. The U.S. spends between two and three trillion dollars a year on health care and these costs account for 15.3 percent of the nation’s total wealth (GDP). The share of GDP is expected to reach 19.5 percent by 2017. As the President said, without reining in health care costs, the U.S. has no hope of ever curbing its massive deficit.

You would think the facts speak for themselves. You would think that the President’s speech was so moving – and so logical – that all decent people would now rally to the cause of reform. But you can bet the profiteers are not going to go quietly into that good night. Their take ranges from 25 to 30 percent of America’s total health care bill, and they have lots of cash to pay lobbyists and propagandists. So brace yourself for a continuing onslaught of disinformation.